Christopher B. Zeichmann

University of Toronto

Martial’s Epigrams 11.94 and the Fiscus Iudaicus

Posted by on Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Martial, Epigrams 11.94 reads:

Your overflowing malice, and your detraction everywhere of my books, I pardon: circumcised poet, you are wise! This too, I disregard, that when you carp at my poesy ouplunder them: so, too, circumcised pet, you are wise! What tortures me is this, that you, circumcised poet, although born in the very midst of Solyma [Jerusalem], corrupt my boy. There! You deny it, and swear to me by the Thunderer’s Temple. I don’t believe you: swear, circumcised on, by Anchialus. (Translation by Walter Charles Alan)

I initially researched this passage in tandem with my work on Jewish understandings of same-sex intercourse in the early Roman period.  I also suspect there is untapped potential for work on the fiscus Iudaicus as well.


The fiscus Iudaicus replaced the half-shekel Jewish temple tax after the destruction of the temple.  While the temple tax was collected by Jewish authorities and used to fund the temple cult in Jerusalem, the fiscus Iudaicus was imposed by Vespasian to fund Jupiter Capitolinus – the temple of Jupiter in the city of Rome. One can only assume this was intended to cause offense and humiliate Jews after the loss in the Judaean War.


Here, Martial seems to make an oblique reference to the fiscus Iudaicus that – as far as I can tell – has never been noted before. Martial wrote mostly under Domitian’s princeps and makes a few other references to the fiscus Iudaicus elsewhere in his writings (Epigrams 7.55 and possibly Liber spectaculorum 36 [see Honora Chapman’s “Reading the Judeans and the Judaean War in Martial’s Liber spectaculorum.”]).  These other references permit us to infer his demand that a Jewish rival swear by the temple of Jupiter in Epigrams 11.94 acts as a humiliating reminder of the Jewish tax’s purpose.
Some commentators want to see references to the temple’s destruction in this epigram: Louis Feldman suggests the demand that the Jewish poet swear by “Anchialus” is a corruption of “Antiochus” (i.e., Antiochus IV Epiphanes); Peter Schaefer suggests “Anchialus” is a corruption of “Archelaus” (i.e., Archelaus II).  Neither of these seems particularly satisfactory to me; the traditional explanation that “Anchialus” is the name of Martial’s slave-boy (a name common among slaves) seems fairly plausible and makes sense in context.